Evernote – an app you definitely need

Ever since I bought my iPhone two years ago I’ve become a bit app-obsessed, which in turn is feeding my anal retentiveness a treat. When my daughter was born, I had an app to record her feeds and sleeping habits and I even have an app to record what I spend each month (used sporadically as it’s too traumatic to regularly see what rubbish I spend my money on).

Then a few months ago, Evernote was recommended to me. Essentially, it’s an online scrapbook that you can use on your PC or phone and is 1000% superior to bookmarking web pages.

How it works

Say you’re searching for holidays on the web and you’ve found a particular hotel you like, you simply click on the icon below (you have to add it to your task bar first) and it clips the page and saves it to your Evernote folder. Or maybe you’ve found a brilliant chocolate cake recipe or a frock you like; again, all you have to do is click on the elephant icon and it will clip the page for you so you can go back to it at a later date.

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It syncs to your desktop, iPhone, tablet etc and has a super-speedy search function so if for example you want to search for that chocolate cake recipe, it will bring the page up in seconds.

I have the same app on my iPhone and it has a brilliant function whereby you can take a picture of something you will need later, such as a bus timetable and it also saves it to your Evernote folder, which can then be viewed on your PC or Mac too.

I now clip a good 50% of the content I view online. Geeky, it may be but it’s free and it makes my working and personal life a little more organised, which in my book has to be a good thing.

Verdict: an essential app and it’s free!

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Red, pimply arms? Try Flexitol

For years I’ve been blighted with these horrible little red pimples on the tops of my arms. I’ve tried exfoliating, blasting them with cold water and slathered on various lotions and potions with very little effect. The skin surface usually improve during the summer thanks to the sun but the red pimples never completely disappear.

Then I read about using Flexitol heel balm to treat this skin condition, which Googling reveals is called keratosis pilaris.

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I’ve been using this cream for years on my poor old cracked heels but it never occurred to me to try it on my arms. The balm contains urea, which is supposedly brilliant for this skin condition and I have to say, although cynical at first, it definitely works. I’ve been using it for a few days now and my arms already look better (now to tackle the dreaded bingo wings).

I’ve also just shelled out on a Phillips Lumea laser hair removal gadget so I’ll report back on it’s effectiveness in a few weeks.

Birthday cake update……

So, an update on my daughter’s birthday cake.

I had the best of intentions but I’ve been forced to admit that a baker I am most definitely not. Put it like this, I won’t be entering The Great British Bake Off for a few years yet.

In the end, I called on the talents of my mum who came to my rescue with a fabulous sponge cake, which I decorated with pink vanilla icing and sugarcraft butterflies.

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Thankfully, it looked and tasted pretty good although there were a few comments from my guests who had read this blog and were expecting something a little different.

The moral of this story is don’t run before you can walk or in my case admit your failings and head to M&S next time for a ready-made birthday cake.

Easy-to-make bunting – all you need is a stapler and fabric

I do love a bit of bunting. It’s probably very passè these days and you’re supposed to hang bits of dead twigs from frayed string or something equally dismal but follow my easy guide to making fabric bunting and I guarantee it’ll put a smile on your face.

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I’m reasonably handy with a sewing machine but having watched BBC2’s Sewing Bee last night, I realise I’m a total amateur in comparison. Luckily this bunting doesn’t even require a needle let alone a sewing machine and it still looks fabulous.

What you need is the following:

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  • A stapler
  • Fabric
  • Pinking shears (basically scissors with a zig zag blade)
  • Bias binding or stiff ribbon
  • Triangle-shaped template
  • Pins or safety pins

It’s reasonably important that you use pinking shears as they help prevent the fabric edges from fraying. You can get them from most craft shops but eBay’s probably your best bet or Hobbycraft.

Like most people, I don’t tend to have tons of spare dress fabric knocking about. The fabric in the bunting pictured came from Hobbycraft and is sold in what they call a ‘fat quarter’ pack and is approx £7-£10. Again, eBay is good for fabric especially if you like Cath Kidston type patterns.

Instructions

  1. Make your bunting triangle template from thin card or paper. Mine measure 8in x 10in but you can make them any size you fancy.
  2. Pin the pattern to the fabric and cut around it with the pinking shears.
  3. Pin the fabric triangle to the bias binding and staple it.
  4. Carry on until you run out of fabric.

It really is that simple. Of course you can make as many lengths of bunting as you want and it is washable as long as you either handwash it or pop the entire bunting in a pillowcase, tie a knot in the top and put it in the washing machine.

Verdict: so easy, a toddler could do it

Is my daughter’s birthday cake going to be the ruin of me?

This could be a disaster. Fool that I am, I’ve ditched the sensible option of buying my soon-to-be-one year old daughter a ready-made birthday cake and instead I’ll be spending Thursday and probably Friday night crying into the buttercream and ringing my mum for help.

For my son’s first birthday I made a monkey cake that I sweated blood and tears over. At 3am the night before his party, as I looked at my creation and hoped it wouldn’t make the children scream in terror, I swore I’d never make a birthday cake again but once I’m on a mission, nothing can deter me.

This is the now-famous monkey cake (should add here it was my husband who made the monkey’s face more child-friendly. Before his intervention, it looked positively evil) :

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Initially, I was going to make a good old Victoria Sandwich and cover it in royal icing but that’s bound to go wrong, so I had a look on Pinterest and found this beautiful cake here: http://www.mycakeschool.com/blog/pretty-petal-effect/

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It looks fancy but doesn’t look that difficult. It’s simply a case of piping the icing onto the cake and then spreading with a spatula (I may well regret these words later). The site is brilliant for novice bakers.

I’ll check back with the finished product so you can all laugh yourself silly at be suitably impressed.

Verdict: I have a slight inkling I’m punching above my weight here.

Easy peasy Chilli con Carne

The heating has been on full blast since October, my hot water bottle is a permanent fixture in my bed  and it’s nearly flipping April. The only good thing about this weather is you’ve still got the perfect excuse to indulge in good old comfort food.

I’ve been cooking this Chilli con Carne for aeons and although my husband likes to slow cook it, I’ve not got the will nor the patience so it’s normally ready within half an hour.

If I’m on a diet, I ditch the rice and eat it with mashed cannellini beans warmed in the microwave, if not I serve it with rice and a pita bread with a dollop of creme fraiche on top.

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Ingredients

  • 1 onion (I use frozen, diced onions – the cheat’s way!)
  • 1 garlic clove or teaspoon of Lazy Garlic
  • 400g lean minced beef
  • 400g tin of tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 3-4 teaspoons chilli flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 tsp ground coriander
  • Shake of Worcester Sauce
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1 tin kidney beans
  • Slug of red wine

Method

  1. Fry the onion and when it’s softened, add the mince. I like to mash it up with a fork to give it a finer consistency.
  2. When the mince is nicely browned, add the red wine (and pour a glass for yourself).
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato puree, cumin, coriander, Worcester sauce, chilli flakes and stock cube. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. At this stage, I add the kidney beans but you can leave putting them in until the end.
  5. Cook for 25-30 minutes on a low heat but if you want a really rich con Carne, cook on a very low heat for 50 minutes.

Verdict: perfect for a cold winter’s evening and can be made in advance and heated up. It freezes really well too.

Why you need a Dermaflannel

Pre-children I had a fairly healthy bank balance and used to spend a hefty part of it on the latest beauty & hair products. As soon as I read about a new ‘miracle’ hair creme that promised to control my unruly curly hair, I’d buy it but inevitably it would join the other dozen or so mousses, serums and sprays that had failed to live up to expectations on my ‘shelf of shame’.

Then along came my children and no longer could I justify spending £50 on a tiny pot of ‘miracle’ moisturiser  or £30 on a frizz-control creme. However, I’m still a gullible sucker for a new product and when I read on various forums about ‘Dermaflannels’, I surrendered and ordered one from Bravuralondon.com.

When it arrived, I have to admit that I did wonder if spending £11 on what looked like a piece of thick kitchen roll might have been yet another semi-expensive beauty mistake but this time, my money was well spent.

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God only knows what the Dermaflannel is made of and it may look innocent enough but after using it a couple of times I swear my skin looked better than it had for years and it has been very effective on those annoying little pimples that spring up on the back of your arms during the winter.

Bravura’s website says: The Dermaflannel is a beauty breakthrough for anyone who likes the idea of a chemical peel….this easy to use, reusable and chemical free way of achieving deeper exfoliation has a unique weave that sweeps away dead skin cells to reveal soft, glowing skin on the face or the body.”

I also bought the glycolic acid 15% night treatment too, which stings like an absolute devil when you apply it so it must work but I mixed it with my trusty Nivea so it was more bearable.

So all in all, I was pretty pleased with my latest beauty purchase but be warned, it does make your skin a little red afterwards so for goodness sake don’t use it before a big night out or if you’ve got an important event the next day – just in case.

Verdict: won’t be joining the ‘shelf of shame’ so it must be good!